Trains. Either you like or you’re obessed with them.
My son dabbles in obession when it comes to trains. He plays it cool whenever we show him a real train (I look like the excited fool, usually), so I don’t classify him as a fanatic. Do you have a fanatic in your house?
Omaha and Council Bluffs, Iowa, are steeped in railroad history so if you’re raising a train devotee in your house, you’re in luck in this town. Here are some places to go to feed the train addiction:
Let’s start at what was once Union Station, Durham Museum. Kids love the real train cars you can walk through and the O Scale model railroad exhibit, as well as ringing the damn bell over and over again (you know which one I’m talking about). While there, get some ice cream at the old fashioned soda fountain. It’s not train related, but mama’s got to keep her energy up when out and about with excited train lovers.
Lauritzen Gardens/Kenefick Park
Lauritzen Gardens’ Model Railroad Garden featuring G-scale model trains running around a landscape of Omaha landmarks made out of natural materials is really neat to look at, not just for the kids, either. In the winter, it’s brought indoors and runs around their poinsettia exhibit.
While at Lauritzen, jet on up the stairs to the south of the gardens to visit Kenefick Park. Check out two giant locomotives on display there. It’s free and open to the public.
Union Pacific Railroad Museum
In Council Bluffs, you can take your kiddos to this museum for free! The newest exhibit, “Building America,” is interactive.
Historic General Dodge House
While you’re not going to spot a ton of train stuff here, I thought I’d mention this Bluffs National Historic Landmark. Dodge has been called “the greatest railroad builder of all time,” so if your train lover appreciates history, this is a good place to visit. Good to note, children 6 and younger are admitted free.
RailsWest Railroad Museum
A restored train depot, the museum features railcars on display outdoors that kids will like checking out up close. Inside, check out the large model railroad display. This museum lacks the funding of some of the other locations on this list, so it’s not as polished or new-looking, but your kids won’t care. Trains are trains.
Nebraska-Iowa Model Railroaders Club Train Room
I have yet to visit this set up at the Mall of the Bluffs, but I know and trust the reporter who wrote about it (story here) – so I’m including it. The Nebraska-Iowa Model Railroaders Club has set up shop at this Council Bluffs mall and on Saturdays, the public is invited to stop by and check it from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Other Train Stuff
You can check out a park located in the Bemis Park neighborhood that has playground equipment shaped like a train.
OK, it’s more of a place that I’d rather go without my kids, but if since we’re talking trains, one of the newer restaurants in Omaha celebrates Omaha’s railroading history. Railcar Modern American Kitchen is at 144th and Blondo streets. The Sunday Brunch menu does have a kids breakfast listed.
Council Bluffs has the Golden Spike, which commemorates the junction of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific rail lines at the Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869. There’s not much to see or do there, but if your kid likes trains and history, why not check it out? Along that train of thought (pun intended), swing by the Lincoln Monument while in C.B. From this site, Lincoln viewed and selected the Eastern Terminus of the first transcontinental railroad built on the United States.
Every July, Railroad Days is celebrated at several locations on this list There are activities planned at each place. The perk of this event is that family admission is very reasonable and it’s good for both days.
Omaha also has its share of little kid-friendly train tables where kids are welcome to build tracks and play until their heart’s content. Stop by one of the two Barnes & Noble locations, where you’ll find the train set in the children’s department. Omaha Children’s Museum has a train table in its Wiggle Room.